Truly at the cutting edge of accessibility!
We have always wanted to be at the cutting edge of web design, especially in terms of accessibility.
Here is how we deliberately stepped out of our comfort zone!
Once in a while a project will come along that pushes us beyond our own boundaries and this is exactly what happened with the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP). Since they were established in 1985, they have been creating an archive comprising thousands of historical documents and photographs as well as video and audio tapes, banners, posters, placards, badges, t-shirts, reports, rare books, leaflets and campaigning materials spanning many decades.
This continues to grow and is stored at Manchester Central Library and is already an extensive resource. Last year they were awarded a grant to digitise the archive, on a new website. The designer who was originally commissioned had withdrawn after several months as it was beyond their skillset. Obviously website accessibility was a key requirement, as well as it being a website that would be easy for people to add content to the archive on a regular basis.
The team at the GMCDP found us on a Google search and we had a Zoom chat about the project. It sounded a really interesting one, a bit different and with the need for both training the volunteers to manage the website and to make sure it had the highest possible level of accessibility.
A tight deadline!
All sounded really good and I asked if they had a deadline. It turned out that they did: 2 weeks!
This wasn’t anybody’s fault but the grant was time-limited and that couldn’t change it, which required some lateral thinking!
Enter Run Your Own Website to the rescue! An Option 5 allows for some customisation but this website required a lot of customisation! You may remember that the last website we did for a Disabled Person’s Charity was for the Nottingham Disabled People’s Movement (https://accessbydesign.uk/projects/our-most-accessible-website-yet/)? That was, for us, a real ground-breaker because it had no less than 7 accessibility options. We wanted to bring all those options into Run Your Own Website Version 2 (which has been live since last year) and make it available to other clients who were on the platform.
There was much more though. The archive contains a lot of large size photos and we coded an option that both controlled the size of the image on the page as well as showing the image in full-size when selected. Each photograph, video clip, leaflet etc had a historical context which was shown next to the image, as well as being able to select the image and show it full-size.
The content in the Archive is broken down into 6 sections: Artefacts, Audio, Documents, Ephemera, Photographs and Video and we created a lot of custom code that would allow them to lay out each section in a way that was sympathetic to aspect ratios of each item.
With accessibility, the key is to provide as many alternatives as possible, to cater for the needs of as many different disabled people as possible. However, not all of the material was available in every format (word, large print word, accessible pdf etc.) so we developed a system that utilised tags. Each item was tagged according to the different formats that were available and on the “View by Accessibility” page, there is a list of all the tags, along with the number of objects that have that format. For example there are 3 objects that have an “easier to read” version, 6 that are text only and so on.
This allows a visitor to the archive to browse the archive by the category of accessibility that they prefer, rather than having to go into each section and select an individual item to see what formats were available for it to be accessed in. This will become much more important over time, as the archive builds.
It was a tall order to do this project in 2 weeks but we didn’t stop there, we actually went further than we have ever had before and created something that is, as far as we can tell, unique.
A world first!
Some disabled people have cognitive challenges and it is important to be able to present content in a way that is as simple and straightforward as possible, using the shortest words possible. Writing in this manner is a skill and GMCDP were working with another agency to produce the content in this format.
The challenge was how to present this information on a page. How could we preserve the original content on the page whilst making the Easier to Read version available to those who wanted it?
Well, I am delighted to say that we found a way! On the website, there is an accessibility option called “Easy Read”, which stands for “Easier to Read”. When this is selected, the content on the pages changes to the “Easier to Read” version. Every page where there is an Easier to Read version created, it will be shown. If there is no alternative, the original text is shown.
We think we have first here. There is software that you can install which will bring up simpler alternatives to specified words on a web page but the volunteers at the DMCFP had never come across this level of sophistication before, which we were very pleased about.
Keeping us at the cutting edge
The volunteers we worked with were lovely: they had different needs: one had a cognitive need, one used a screen reader and another did not require a screen reader but had a requirement for large contrast in a specific contrast. When they were developing the website with us, both in terms of using it and also in terms of adding new content, a few issues became apparent which required additional coding to accommodate them.
This is one of the many reasons why I love working with disabled people: they find things that able-bodied people (even those with many years designing and building accessible websites) don’t always pick up and it really keeps us on our toes!
As all this work has been done with Run Your Own Website Version 2, it means that these accessibility options can be made available to our other clients who are also on Run Your Own Website Version 2!
I am extremely proud of what we have achieved in the last 15 years, especially with website accessibility and design. It is in our name.
Access by Design. Accessible Websites. Beautifully Designed.
If you would like to talk to us about having an Accessibility Audit of your existing website or if you would just like some general advice, please do get in touch by following the link below or calling us on 01243 776399.